'Ant-Man' review: An inversion of the superhero genre

Published - July 25, 2015 06:34 pm IST

A still from 'Ant-Man'

A still from 'Ant-Man'

Over time, comic book superhero films — Batman , Iron Man et al — have been criticised for possessing a compromised moral core, projecting the superheroes as guardians of the privileged, and the masses in general as problems the society needs to fix. So far, we have had two billionaire superheroes: Batman, who steps in to fight crime and ultimately saves even the Wall Street, and the other, Iron Man, who uses modern science and technology to create high-tech weaponry for profits, claiming that his mission is to make the world better.

Then, there is Superman who, despite actually being an immigrant, claimed that he was a cowboy hailing from Kansas, which has been converted into a lab of sorts by the right wing for their radical social and economic experiments in the United States of America. In this generally grim scenario, the new Marvel superhero movie, Ant-Man , stands out and is a timely intervention by Marvel Studios to resuscitate the superhero film, which has been on a steady downward slide of late. Funny man Paul Rudd, who plays the small-time but good-intentioned thief Scott Lang, is not a billionaire, and he is not fighting aliens from another world, terrorists in the Middle East or eliminating crime in the big bad cities of the West. He is jobless and cannot even provide child support. He fights Darren Cross, an egotistic billionaire, who is attempting to recreate a technology using which atoms can be shrunk and smaller things can be blown out of proportion. It’s a machine built by S.H.I.E.L.D’s scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), which Cross intends to sell for the purpose of warfare. Ant-Man’s mission is to steal this machine.

The film’s ingenuity lies in the way it turns even the most traumatic experience — of losing important parts of the body — into a potent advantage. In a way, it is an inversion of staple superhero tropes: the Ant-Man doesn’t have special powers that would help him pummel the villain into submission. All he can do is shrink his body so small that everything around seems like Mt. Everest.

Make no mistake, Ant-Man delivers what most comic book superhero films are designed for: funny lines, ably delivered by Paul Rudd, and entertaining action-blocks. In his shrunk avatar, Ant-Man commands the collective army of ants which help him steal even from the most secure establishments. The most juicy and entertaining parts of the film feature Ant-Man sliding into small crevices of computer servers to destroy sensitive data. For an audience that has seen aliens trying to suck in an entirely new planet into the earth’s atmosphere, it would be quite different to behold the action happening inside pipes and AC ducts.

However, there are a couple of things that stick out unappealingly. First, the useless (but necessary to the producers) cross-references to other franchises such as The Avengers and Iron Man , whose universe the Ant-Man, no doubt, will ultimately co-habit. These appear as ugly plugs for future films. Second, Ant-Man is not really mounted as a superhero film, thanks to its aforementioned inversion.

The film switches from big to small — literally and metaphorically. While it talks about stopping the rich Cross from spreading chaos in the world, the battle is often fought in the unlikeliest of places — like the toy train set of Ant-Man's daughter. It consistently refuses to fit into the superhero genre, and periodically plays out like a regular heist movie. In hindsight, I don't think this is a problem. Perhaps this is what makes the film so interesting.


Genre: Superhero

Director: Peyton Reed

Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas

Storyline: A small-time thief is recruited by a military scientist to steal from his former protege

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